The subject of the matronly woman alone in her surroundings is a common motif for Rego. In the present work, a woman is seemingly engaged in domestic chores; she stares ahead as though lost in a moment of thoughtful contemplation amidst her endeavours. The room she occupies is sparsely furnished allowing the viewer to focus their attention on the subject and Rego’s mastery of composition. The work itself is given its power when we learn that the series of Untitled works that Rego created in 1998-9 depict “a variety of women, from schoolgirl to society lady, either preparing for an abortion or coping with its aftermath.” (F. Bradley, Paula Rego, London 2002, p. 93). This particular series of works was created by Rego in response to a referendum on abortion that took place in her native Portugal on 28 June 1998. At the time, Portugal had antiquated laws on the issue and a more liberal approach was set to go ahead before the referendum blocked the change. Rego was furious at this and created an unsettling series of works in response, works which dramatise the politics of the act in a typically visceral and starkly uncompromising realist style.
Rego’s absolute mastery of the expressive possibilities using the oil pastel medium is demonstrated in Untitled No. 9 by the small details which stand out: the vibrant blue tassels on the towel at the bottom right of the composition, or the magnificent detailing on the figures hand, showing the knuckles and veins protruding through the flesh. Evocative of the attenuated muscularity of the figure paintings from the Spanish Baroque, and the gritty realism of artists such as Courbet and Millet, Untitled No. 9 displays Rego’s relish for the medium, placing her firmly at the forefront of contemporary figurative painting.
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